Coronavirus: Why Student Nurses Deserve Better4 min read

Emily Calder discusses the impact of increased pressure on the NHS and UK student nurses, and why she thinks the government should be doing more to recognise their efforts.

It was recently confirmed by Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, that for the near 30,000 student nurses their paid placements will soon come to an end. From April they have been deployed to assist the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. For all second-year and the majority of third-year nursing students, their placements will end on 31st July. This news has sparked a lot of anger within the student nursing community. In spite of not being a student nurse myself, their fury is something that I both understand and share.

The sentiment amongst many student nurses seems to be they feel they have provided a vital service during a time of global crisis. Now, they’re arguably being cast aside. The end of these contracts will most likely cause issues for some student nurses financially. Many still have rent to pay and are living in accommodation away from home whilst assisting the NHS and completing placement hours. Jessica Sainsbury, chair of the Royal College of Nursing’s student committee expressed to the Nursing Times that many students seemed to be under the impression that the paid placement arrangement would have continued for longer than the 31 July.

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Not only are these financial issues a worry for many, but these students have also been putting themselves at risk of contracting coronavirus. This is a daunting prospect for many. Whilst the rest of the country has been told to stay inside and isolate from the danger of the pandemic, many student nurses were instead called to potentially expose themselves to the virus in the midst of giving the NHS the help needed.

Additionally, whilst many students have been able to return to their home towns to isolate alongside their families, many student nurses have not. They have had to do the polar opposite, namely isolating from their loved ones during what is most likely one of the toughest and most uncertain times for UK students in a lifetime.

I believe that student nurses are taking on arguably one of the most difficult undergraduate qualifications. They are required to complete 2,300 hours of unpaid clinical practice alongside 2,300 hours of active learning in order to qualify. They will leave university £30,000 in debt for this sacrifice, making my measly ten contact hours a week feel rather pathetic.

Whilst I have tucked myself away in my family home to write my dissertation, which of course has been no small feat during a time of such global anxiety, student nurses were making huge sacrifices to help the NHS and to keep the rest of us safe. Even if ending their placements at this time was the plan all along, as Matt Hancock has argued, they surely deserve recognition in some form for the unexpected sacrifices that they have had to make.

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A second-year nursing student expressed to the Evening Standard her upset at the fact that she had to continue to pay her tuition fees during the coronavirus crisis, “despite receiving no face to face teaching and actively working in the NHS”. This perhaps feels even more like a kick in the teeth in light of news that the NHS Learning Support Fund “will begin providing non-repayable grants of up to £8,000 a year to student healthcare professionals.” There are currently no plans to backdate these payments to the second and third-year student nurses who have made such sacrifices for the NHS during a time of national crisis.

To put it simply, they deserve better. Whilst many of us students sat at home making sacrifices of our own, our experiences are arguably pale in comparison to that of the student nurses. They plunged themselves into the workforce before completing their qualifications, putting themselves at risk in a time of uncertainty, when we needed them desperately.

Just as how clapping for the NHS was arguably not enough, I would argue that student nurses deserve more recognition from the government for what they have done for our country during a time of national crisis. I cannot imagine just how difficult and harrowing many of their experiences have been, and these efforts cannot go without reward.

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